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Year in review: UL saves best for last

Softball highlights year in Cajun athletics

Joshua Parrott • jparrot@theadvertiser.com • July 1, 2008

When looking back at UL athletics in the 2007-08 academic year, the Ragin’ Cajuns definitely saved their best for last.

One year after failing to win the Sun Belt Conference’s regular-season and conference tournament titles for the first time, UL’s softball team made the program’s first trip to the Women’s College World Series in five years. The unseeded Cajuns stunned top-seeded Florida, 3-2, to open World Series play and ended the season with a 52-15 record and a No. 6 national ranking – the program’s highest since 1996.

"I’m proud of those kids and how they’ve worked and fought together all year," UL co-coach Michael Lotief said after the Cajuns tied for fifth at the World Series. "We brought out the best in each other and the best in the community."

Despite having 10 newcomers, the Cajuns put together an 18-game winning streak in the regular season and lost one home game for only the third time in program history. In the conference tournament, the Cajuns rolled to four consecutive victories by a 32-3 margin but did not earn a postseason seeding.

No bother.

After knocking off No. 9 national seed LSU in the Baton Rouge Regional, the Cajuns eliminated No. 8 seed Houston in Super Regionals for the program’s fifth World Series berth. The victory against Florida was UL’s first in World Series play since 1996.

Outfielder Holly Tankersley – who hit two home runs in Oklahoma City, including the go-ahead shot against Florida – was a first team NFCA All-American, the conference’s player of the year and a World Series All-Tournament Team selection. The senior finished among the national leaders in multiple offensive categories, including batting average (.441), homers (23) and RBIs (74).

Second baseman Vanessa Soto capped her career in style after transferring from LSU, hitting .333 with 23 doubles and 67 RBIs as a senior.

Freshman Ashley Brignac emerged as the team’s pitching ace, going 31-7 with a 1.38 ERA and 327 strikeouts in 228.1 innings. Brignac, named the SBC’s pitcher of the year and the conference tournament’s most outstanding player, struck out a career-high 15 batters in the victory against Florida.

Not to be overlooked, sophomore third baseman Melissa Verde hit .294 with seven homers and 42 RBIs – despite playing most of the year with a torn ACL.

It was that type of grit and determination that fueled the Cajuns to one of their best seasons in the program’s history.

MEN’S BASKETBALL

The season started with low expectations coming off a 9-21 campaign. With the nation’s third-youngest roster, the Cajuns were picked in the preseason to finish fifth in the SBC West Division.

UL shocked the critics, going 15-15 and earning a share of the division title with Arkansas-Little Rock. It marked the first time in four years the program won a piece of a divisional crown.

"From where we’ve come from, I think it speaks volumes to the progress we’ve made," said coach Robert Lee, who received a two-year contract extension in the spring. "For our team to get a share of the West Division championship was a big accomplishment."

Although sophomores Damon Forest (Southeastern Louisiana) and Elijah Millsap (UAB) transferred and seniors David Dees, Abray Milson and Maurice Barksdale moved on, the core of the team returns next season. Joining the roster is a six-man recruiting class that should address last season’s lack of depth on the frontline and put the Cajuns among the favorites to win the conference next season.

The future is definitely bright for the Cajuns, who got 83.2 percent of last season’s scoring from freshmen or sophomores – the highest by any NCAA Division I school.

Swingmen Chris Gradnigo might be the brightest of the young stars, averaging a team-high 9.6 points and scoring at least 20 points five times as a freshman. He topped the 20-point mark in three of his last five games, averaging 17.6 points during that stretch.

BASEBALL

In the preseason the Cajuns were ranked in multiple national polls and the consensus choice to win the conference.

Unfortunately, they could not live up to the hype after finishing last in the conference in fielding and hitting.

The Cajuns closed the regular season hot to qualify for the SBC Tournament in Lafayette. But they were eliminated with back-to-back losses to New Orleans in the conference tourney, closing the year at 30-29.

"It just wasn’t our year," junior Scott Hawkins said. "We’ve got to do a lot of things this summer to get better. We don’t want to be in this position again next year."

Left-hander Hunter Moody enjoyed the most individual success this year. The senior was a first team all-conference, all-South Central Region and all-Louisiana pick after going 9-2 with a 3.26 ERA. He finished as the program’s winningest pitcher with a 31-7 career record.

Junior right-hander Danny Farquhar (10th round) and Moody (35th round) signed with the Toronto Blue Jays after getting selected in June’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

FOOTBALL

The Cajuns proved they could run the ball this past season, ranking seventh nationally in rushing yards per game (251.6). But they ranked 115th in passing yards (115.5) and struggled defensively because of injuries and inconsistency.

After a 3-9 season, coach Rickey Bustle decided it was time for a change. He promoted Ron Hudson to offensive coordinator and hired Eastern Illinois’ Jorge Munoz as the quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator and Stephen F. Austin’s Gerald Broussard as the defensive line coach.

The Cajuns worked all spring on the passing game. Next year’s offense should be more than just the running of quarterback Michael Desormeaux and running back Tyrell Fenroy, both of whom topped 1,000 rushing yards as junior.

"It’s something we’ve worked on a lot this spring," Bustle said. "We wanted to make a change in our passing game and get the ball down the field."

No Cajuns were selected in this year’s NFL draft, but offensive tackle Jesse Newman was taken by the Calgary Stampeders with the third overall pick in the Canadian Football League’s Canadian college draft.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

First-year coach Errol Rogers embraced the challenge of leading a program one season removed from its first NCAA Tournament appearance.

But similar success did not follow this season as the Cajuns struggled to an 8-22 mark, including 2-15 away from home.

Senior guard Alicia McDaniel was a third team all-conference selection, averaging a team-high 12.6 points. She played in 122 career games – the most in program history. The Houston native joined UL great Kim Perrot as the only players in school history with at least 750 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists and 150 steals in a career.

Fellow seniors Onna Charles and Sonora Edwards became the 12th and 13th players in program history with 1,000 career points. Edwards finished second in the conference in rebounding at 8.6 per game and averaged 10.9 points.

Next season Rogers brings in a six-player recruiting class to replace six seniors, including the team’s top three scorers and top four rebounders.

"The six new ones coming in understand the game and what we want to do," Rogers said. "We’re going to have a bunch of new kids. They can play. There’s a chance you could see four or five freshmen on the court at one time."

Joshua Parrott is the UL beat writer for The Daily Advertiser. He can be reached at (337) 289-6318 or jparrott@theadvertiser.com

For a closer look at year in athletics for UL’s Cajuns, visit theadvertiser.com

 

  • For a 2007-08 review of Cajun golf, soccer, volleyball, track and field, cross country and tennis, check out Joshua Parrott’s blog.

     

     

  • Photo gallery on softball, softball, women’s basketball, men’s basketball and football teams.